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Kung Fu Panda 2 Learns Some New, Darker Moves – movie review
I’ll be honest with you from the start; I was not a fan of the first Kung Fu Panda movie. It was typical Dreamworks fluff for me. I walked into Kung Fu Panda 2 expecting a similar empty experience and walked out more full than I could have imagined.
The entire film is an exercise in character development for the Jack Black voiced Po. He starts out exactly where he left off in the previous movie, a hungry panda and recently crowned Dragon Warrior of kung fu. His skills have improved, but he’s still the same clumsy bear. At the beginning I kept thinking, “Yup, here we go. Food jokes, yay.” It wasn’t comforting. But looking back, I forgot you need a starting point in order to grow.
Po’s journey throughout is to find inner peace for a past he cannot remember, leaving him confused and unable to properly defeat his enemy, Lord Shen (Gary Oldman). Shen remembers his past all too well, and it’s left him bitter and hateful towards the world. And, of course, Po and Shen’s pasts are inexplicably linked, Shen being responsible for the destruction of Po’s village.
It’s around the second act where things take a dark turn, visually and tonally. Everything on screen in Shen’s city is in shadows, covered by an evil red light source. Outside the city it’s rainy and desaturated, reflecting the despair Po feels at not being able to overcome his past. When Po finally finds inner peace, it’s a triumphant, if sad, moment. He remembers and accepts what happened to him and who he is. This acceptance gives him the ability to do crazy awesome things and finally put an end to Shen’s threat.
Most if not the entire plot is pretty straightforward and predictable, but that doesn’t rob it of the heart that’s there. Despite all the obvious food jokes and sight gags, this film has great character moments for Po. I particularly liked seeing his friendship with Tigress take a step further with her understanding his pain despite her hardened emotions. And there are some pretty good laughs. One that sticks out is when Po and the Five hide in a big dragon costume and “eat” the enemy wolves, beating them up inside and then “pooping” them out. It’s visually very funny, and kids will love it.
The 3D is very good, as it usually is with animated movies. It never gets in the way, or becomes too obvious. It feels natural and enhances the experience the way it should.
This was a step up from the usual kinds of movies we get from Dreamworks. It wasn’t quite as good as last year’s How To Train Your Dragon, but I feel like those at Dreamworks are getting better at telling their stories.